Sunday, September 21, 2008

RFID 'Smart Cards' in a surveillance society

"If incorporating personal details into an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip implanted into a passport or driver’s license may sound like a 'smart' alternative to endless lines at the airport and intrusive questioning by securocrats, think again.

"Since the late 1990s, corporate grifters have touted the 'benefits' of the devilish transmitters as a 'convenient' and 'cheap' way to tag individual commodities, one that would “revolutionize” inventory management and theft prevention. Indeed, everything from paper towels to shoes, pets to underwear have been 'tagged' with the chips. 'Savings' would be 'passed on' to the consumer. Call it the Wal-Martization of everyday life.

"RFID tags are small computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be fixed to or implanted within physical objects, including human beings. The RFID chip itself contains an Electronic Product Code that can be 'read' when a RFID reader emits a radio signal. The chips are divided into two categories, passive or active. A 'passive' tag doesn’t contain a battery and its 'read' range is variable, from less than an inch to twenty or thirty feet. An 'active' tag on the other hand, is self-powered and has a much longer range. The data from an 'active' tag can be sent directly to a computer system involved in inventory control–or surveillance.

"But as Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) state in a joint position paper, 'RFID has the potential to jeopardize consumer privacy, reduce or eliminate purchasing anonymity, and threaten civil liberties.'"

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